Cooper v. Harris

Facts of the Case

When a State invokes the, to justify race-based districting, it must show (to meet the narrow tailoring requirement of the Equal Protection Clause) that it had a strong basis in evidence for concluding that the statute required its action. Or said otherwise, the State must establish that it had good reasons to think that it would transgress the Act if it did not draw race-based district lines. That strong basis (or good reasons) standard gives States breathing room to adopt reasonable compliance measures that may prove, in perfect hindsight, not to have been needed.




“The district court did not error in determining that North Carolina’s new districting plan constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and neither claim nor issue preclusion based on the state court case dictate the outcome of this case. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion for the 5-3 majority. The Court held that the district court was presented with sufficient evidence to find that race was the predominant rationale for the redistricting. Additionally, North Carolina did not meet its burden of proving that it had a compelling interest to sort voters based on race that it met with narrowly tailored means. Although complying with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) might serve as a compelling reason, the state must demonstrate that it had good cause to think that it would transgress the requirements of the VRA if it did not draw race-based district boundaries. Because there was no evidence of “white bloc voting” prior to the new districting plan, there was no sufficient reason for the state to think there was a potential VRA violation that required race-based districting. The Court also held that, although issue or claim preclusion may arise when plaintiffs in two cases have a special relationship, the state never proved that such a relationship existed between the plaintiffs in this case and those in the similar state court case.In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the relevant section of the VRA does not apply to redistricting and therefore could not be used to justify racial gerrymandering.Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which he argued that, in evaluating a potential racial gerrymander, courts must assume the good intentions of the legislature. Therefore, the plaintiffs must meet the burden of showing that the legislature was improperly motivated by race and could have achieved any legitimate political objectives through another redistricting plan. The plaintiffs in this case failed to meet that burden by not submitting an alternative map of the districts in question. Although the majority opinion argued that the alternative map was only one method of showing that race was the predominant redistricting factor, Justice Alito wrote that the requirement was a sound one, based in precedent, that reflected the familiar allocation of burdens of proof. Additionally, Justice Alito argued that the lower court was not presented with sufficient evidence that considerations about race dominated the redistricting effort. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined in the opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the discussion or decision of this case.”

Case Information

Citation: 581 US (2017)
Granted: Jun 27, 2016
Argued: Dec 5, 2016
Decided: May 22, 2017
Case Brief: 2017